Facilitating Courageous Conversations Within the Context of Teams

Posted by Ben Rulli


In less than two weeks we welcome students back to Proctor's campus for the first time since March. The ability for in-person instruction and regular daily routine of classes, afternoon activities, and nightly study hall is something we all desperately crave. As we transition back to campus and settle into our new normal, afternoon activities will be a part of our routine. 

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Sure, they will look different as we adhere to COVID-19 protocols, but the sports themselves and the concept of being a part of a team will not change. Coaches will lead practices that focus on individual skill development, the building of team culture, and the imparting of wisdom through lessons learned in sport. Sometimes these lessons are easy, especially when you are winning. But, it is through the adversity of losing, pushing through difficult challenges, and a willingness to have difficult conversations that lasting lessons are learned.

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Over the course of the summer months, community conversations at Proctor centered around racial injustice. Through virtual forums, in-person vigils, and individual learning and growing, we took steps forward in better understanding the role of race at Proctor. Student voices have been critical to these on-going conversations, and will continue to be as we move into the start of the school year. 

As afternoon program directors and coaches, it is our responsibility to elevate the student voices, to leverage athletics as a way to contribute to the strengthening and healing of our school community. Read below excerpts from a letter shared with coaches by Director of Athletics Gregor Makechnie ‘90 discussing the important role Proctor’s afternoon program will play in encouraging and facilitating courageous conversations this fall. 

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Since we departed campus in early March, more than six months ago, our nation has found itself in the confluence of two pandemics: COVID-19, and the ongoing crisis of racial injustice. Additionally, the tributary streams of polarized political dialogue and a proliferation of misinformation, a looming financial crisis, and the prospect of a contentious presidential election enhance the turbulence. 

What can we do as coaches to leverage athletics to contribute to our amazing school community as we navigate the tumult around us? How can our athletic program help us to access that which is very best about our humanity? Recognizing that what strengthens our teams strengthens our community and that the issues that can tear a team apart are the very same things that can rip a community apart, how might we daily employ our core values: Honesty, Respect, Responsibility, and Compassion in our interactions with our teams?

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Specific to the crisis of racial injustice, I encourage each of us to interrogate our sport, our team/activity group policies, and our team/activity group culture for instances of equity and inequity. What do injustice and inequity look like? You might ask the following while thinking of your team:

  • What does everyday racism look like? What does it sound like?
  • What ideas might our students be internalizing based upon what we say?
  • What do students internalize based upon what we do not say?
  • When building team culture, do we require individuals to suppress aspects of their identity?
  • How are we disciplining students?
  • Who may feel uncomfortable about a team apparel purchase? What can we do about it?
  • Who might feel uncomfortable receiving Adopt-a-Team emails about supporting post-competition gatherings?
  • What language, what words, do we allow or not allow during team activities?
  • What music is OK to play before a game, in the locker room, or while traveling on a bus?
  • If your team has a social media account, what do the posts project? What story do they tell? If your team does not have a social media account, what story does its absence tell?

Beyond racial identity, we might also ask ourselves questions related to gender equity, gender fluidity, and sexual orientation. As you ask these questions about your specific team or activity group, you might have thoughts or questions that extend, more broadly, to our afternoon program. This year, we intend to audit our afternoon program with the intent of uncovering bias that we may not be aware of. Your help will be appreciated. Additionally, there are excellent and willing resources to help us navigate these nuanced and layered conversations throughout our community. 

Our afternoon program mission statements include a series of "we believe" statements. Are there additional "we believe" statements about diversity, equity, and inclusion that we might consider adding to our mission statements? Here's to a terrific 2020-2021 school year in which we heighten our humanity through participation in afternoon programming.

With appreciation for all that you do with our students in the afternoon,


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